For a Pop in Prescriptions, Consider Reaching the Cordless

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Sander Flaum

For a Pop in Prescriptions, Consider Reaching the Cordless

By Sander A. Flaum

By “cordless,” I mean the growing number of consumers who have abandoned broadcast or cable TV and rely solely on streaming services for their video content.

According to journalist Natasha Singer (The New York Times, September 15, 2022), streaming is now more popular than either broadcast or cable. What’s alarming about this trend, says Singer, is that streaming currently falls outside FCC transparency constraints. As a result, political ads can be sent without traditional attribution (“I’m So and So, and I approve this message.”) More important, it means that these ads can be targeted with remarkable precision to individual households simply by accessing publicly available data such as party affiliation, voter records, social media activity, and so on.

But where Natasha sees this as a threat to democracy, I’m excited.

Consider what this streaming “medium” may offer pharma marketers. Throughout my career, I’ve found that getting an early jump on new media can pay off big. At the Robert A. Becker ad agency (later to evolve into Euro RSCG), we focused on finding the best media to help sell clients’ products. In the early 1990s, when drugs such as Zerit from Bristol Myers Squibb were beginning to turn the tide against HIV, we ran patient testimonials via outdoor and transit posters. Later, once the ban on DTC TV promotion was lifted, our agency created memorable consumer spots like the porta-potty “trailer,” which helped Flomax become a blockbuster BPH drug.

So what about the potential for DTC Rx promotion via NetFlix, Hulu, etc? Could we use streaming services to deliver promotional content directly to households with a member diagnosed with, say, arthritis or diabetes? Sure, it’s dicey. Data mining an individual’s healthcare history is a third rail I wouldn’t want to touch. It’s entirely different than going through public records to identify someone’s party affiliation and voting frequency. That’s fair game. But I’m pretty sure that trying to ferret out a consumer’s personal healthcare data wouldn’t go over well.

Yet let’s explore this for a moment. What if an advertiser partnered with a streaming provider to offer subscribers with a specific diagnosis the opportunity to opt in to receive targeted messages about their condition and/or treatments? As an inducement, the marketer could offer to help defray or even absorb the patient’s streaming costs. A win-win for all parties!

Here’s another idea. Instead of targeting patients, what if you offered to send HCPs (after all, they stream, too!) materials via their streaming services? It’s not really different from offering subsidized subscriptions to medical journals. For that matter, why not sponsor a show featuring your product and the disease it treats and stream your content directly to interested households?

Will this stay legal? That’s a fair question. Prompted by alarms sent out by journalists like Singer, some lawmakers want to shove streaming into the same media category as broadcast and cable TV. The so-called Honest Ads Act was drafted after 2016 to prevent unattributed political ads. This piece of legislation has been repeatedly passed by the House, but inevitably stalls in the Senate. This shouldn’t concern us, since we’d still be bound by FDA regulations concerning fair balance and so on.

What do you think? Imagine your DTC ads streamed exclusively to the patients or doctors you want most to reach. If you’re a cord-cutter yourself, you probably see the benefits. But if you’re still tethered to cable or broadcast media, why not look into this exciting new opportunity? It just may be the wave of the future.

Editor’s note: The staff at and Med Ad News was sad to learn of the passing of Sander Flaum, a pharma sales and marketing expert, motivational coach, accomplished author, and industry friend. Flaum died on Sunday, December 11, 2022 following a brief illness. 

Sander Flaum

Sander Flaum, MBA, is principal, Flaum Navigators, Advisory Board Member and Executive-in-Residence, Fisher College of Business, The Ohio State University.